John 17:1-5 (90 Days with Jesus, Day 76)
1After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 4I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. 5And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.
DA Carson wrote, “To see God’s glory, to be given eternal life—these are parallel, and, lest the reader miss the point, the two themes are drawn together in v. 3. Eternal life turns on nothing more and nothing less than knowledge of the true God. Eternal life is not so much everlasting life as personal knowledge of the Everlasting One” (The Gospel According to John, 556).
The first thing that must be remembered about what is preserved for us in John 17 is the nature of what is said. That is, John 17 is not merely a history or a biography or a transcript of some conversation or parable of Jesus (I’m not implying that those things are bad or inferior.) What I’m concerned about here is this: If Jesus is who he claimed to be in John’s Gospel, namely, the Great I Am, and here in John 17 he is praying, then what a prayer this is! Furthermore, we should take careful note of his words, the what of his prayer. The what, though, is only important to the extent that we understand the who and the how.
Simply put: This is the Great I Am praying a prayer! It seems to me to be of utmost importance to pay close attention to this prayer, but as prayer before content. What are the words that Jesus uses? What are the ambitions he prayers for? What is he concerned enough about to pray for? What matters to him when he prays? And, if this is true, are his concerns important enough that perhaps we should model our own prayers after his? Bryan Chapell has written a little book called Praying Backwards: Transform your Prayer Life by Beginning in Jesus’ Name. In the introduction he writes,
“How would your prayer change if you began where you normally end? We habitually end our prayers with the phrase ‘In Jesus’ name, Amen.’…When we pray ‘in Jesus’ name,’ we pray for his sake more than our own. We still present our desires and concerns to God, but we do so in the context of yielding our priorities to Christ’s priorities. The final phrase of our prayer reminds us, as well as commits us, to submit all our requests to the glory of God. Yet that is not always the way we pray. Often we focus on asking God to ease our worries and satisfy our wants before adding ‘in Jesus’ name’ as an obligatory spiritual seasoning to make our petitions palatable to God” (13).
If that is true, then shouldn’t the content of our prayers be the content of Jesus’ prayers? Should we not imitate the one who taught his disciples to pray? This is precisely the point of Don Carson’s book A Call to Spiritual Reformation even though Carson expands the well of content to include the prayers of the apostle Paul that are scattered throughout his writings. Carson writes that the ‘greatest need for churches today is a deeper knowledge of God’ (15). Carson says that when we pray the prayers of the New Testament our prayer priorities change—he believes that we actually start knowing God better. How can this be? Well, if Scripture is the Word of God, God breathed, then what better thing than to pray the very thoughts of God back to God? The shape of our prayers change, the content of the prayers change, the priorities change. I might go so far as to suggest that even our posture will change. Certainly our attitude will change. Perhaps then our prayers will be more lucid, less frenetic, less frantic. Perhaps we will be more trusting in God’s Sovereignty.
“….Jesus is not like a genie in a bottle whom we can command by invoking his name. When we pray, we should be doing more than looking heavenward, believing with all our might that our wish will come true, and instead of repeating, ‘star light, star bright, bring the wish I wish tonight,’ saying, ‘In Jesus’ name, amen.’ Two problems immediately arise when we treat prayer like a surefire wishing star. First, we limit God by the wisdom of our wishes…The second problem with making prayer a wishing well is forcing the conclusion that prayers, like wishing wells, are fantasies…When we pray ‘in Jesus’ name,’ we have the assurance that he will answer our prayer in a way that brings glory to Jesus and furthers his kingdom” (13-14, 15).
So the idea of praying the Scripture is not so far-fetched after all and it makes all the more sense when we see the way that Jesus prayed. What comes first? Does a renewed recipe, invigorated content, of prayer lead to a renewed vision of the Greatness of Christ? Or does a renewed vision of the Greatness of Christ lead to renewed recipe and invigorated content in our prayers? Maybe it is somehow linked together in ways we don’t really understand.
What about the content, then, of Jesus’ prayer in John 17? Well, if the content of this prayer doesn’t revitalize our content and renew our vision I suspect very little will. Let’s look at it briefly.
First, Jesus was concerned about God’s glory, and not his own. Yes, Jesus prays, “Father, glorify your Son, in order that…” Jesus is not concerned about himself. He is concerned about God’s glory—an important theme in John’s Gospel (see 12:27-34). Jesus’ first prayer priority is the Glory of God. When you pray, is this always your priority? Is this always your first request, petition, thanksgiving, and prayer?
Second, Jesus was concerned with the things of eternity. “For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.” Jesus is not merely concerned with the temporal. His plans are ambitious so to speak. He has a grand vision. I think sometimes our prayers on earth are far too temporal, far too mundane, far too ‘things of man, not things of God.’ Just imagine for a minute: The Son of God prayed about our eternal destiny. He prayed the big picture—do we?
Third, Jesus prayed that we might know God: “Now this is eternal life: That they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent.” Carson is surely right: Eternal life is not just about living or existing. Someone commented the other day, “Won’t we get bored doing all that eternal living?” My question is, “How could we get bored spending an eternity knowing the Infinite God? How could our knowledge of Him, His mysteries, and Jesus Christ ever be exhausted?” Surely this is eternal life! Surely, this is Living!
Fourth, Jesus again prays about the glory of God and about “…completing the work you gave me to do.” But even this work that Jesus prayed about was still very concerned with God being glorified. Maybe sometimes we pray that God will help us finish or we do finish something just so it can be done or so we can get some praise for ourselves. Jesus says that he finished the work God gave him to do so that God would be glorified. This is a difficult lesson to get into our heads, but get it into our hearts we must. What greater work can we be about than the work of bringing glory to the Name of God?
Fifth, Jesus prays very simply, “Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” So we understand that Jesus gave up something in order to come here. I can’t imagine this because we humans cling tenaciously to what little glory we have. A little lower than the angels we may be, but we are not going any lower (and fight with the angels if we could)! We are just not as able to let go and let God. Jesus did just that. Can you imagine being strong enough to so entrust yourself to God? Can you imagine being so emptied of pride, ambition, and self that you pray, “Father, I’ll leave it up to you to glorify me in whatever way you choose”?
Thus it comes full circle. Jesus begins by praying that God be glorified, his prayer is filled with concern for God’s glory, and he ends with God’s glory. It does make one wonder amidst the prayers for healing, bill paying and world peace where God’s glory fits in doesn’t it? And if we dare to suggest such a thing as God’s glory is more important, most important, we are ridiculed and God’s Name is blasphemed. But God’s glory will not be surrendered, nor will it be sacrificed, and it makes perfectly logical sense that our prayers will be filled with this same priority as Jesus’ was.
Soli Deo Gloria!